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Railroad Earth jam at Sweetwater's Music Farm bash

A live review of the jamgrass band's Music Farm show

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Railroad Earth
Music Farm
June 22

Railroad Earth teamed up with Sweetwater Brewing Company at the Music Farm last Friday for a night of bluegrass and beer to benefit the Charleston Waterkeeper's efforts to protect the Cooper River.

The Americana-folk band has been touring the Southeast with the Atlanta-based microbrewery for the past few months in a joint effort to protect the region's waterways. Before the band took the stage, fiddle player Tim Carbone got on stage to express the band's dedication to the cause. "I grew up on the Delta River in New Jersey," he announced. "It's been a privilege to be on this tour with Sweetwater to help protect the water we all love so much."

The crowd went wild at that, and the band quickly took up their instruments and started into "Reuben's Train," an old bluegrass classic that's been recycled by Americana bands for decades. Railroad Earth played it at a slower pace than the traditional barn-blazer, which gave the song a dark, vintage tone.

It was an unusual approach for Railroad Earth, who usually open with inviting crowd favorites like "Mighty River." But as the night wore on, it became clear that this wasn't a typical Railroad Earth show. The first half of the concert was characterized by obscure songs separated by long instrumental phases. The band seemed to be more interested in improvising with each other than playing to the crowd, which for serious observers was an absolute delight. But the fans that came for the usual foot-stomping experience of a Railroad Earth concert were itching for something more familiar by the end of the first set.

As if they were responding to the crowd's unspoken wishes, Railroad Earth came back for the second set with melodic songs like "Give That Boy a Hand," and "Peace on Earth," two selections almost guaranteed to engage the crowd. A favorite among older audience members was the rendition of "Tore Up Over You," a Roy Hamilton song that Jerry Garcia Band often covered. It was a rare joy to see lead guitarist Todd Schaffer briefly leave his poised demeanor to shred his guitar in true Jerry Garcia fashion.

Despite periods of lagging energy in the first set, the band totally redeemed themselves by the end of the night. They encored with "Hard Livin'" a happy song about redemption and new beginnings. After two sets of roots music and a hefty donation to the Charleston Waterkeeper, it's safe to say that Railroad Earth gave the Charleston audience their money's worth.

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